On a pleasantly warm summer’s day, a steady procession of traffic eases over the stone bridge carrying the A44 across the river Severn at Worcester and out past the county cricket ground. In the shadows of the masonry arches, scarcely noticed, a pair of common terns engage in aerial ballet – wheeling, turning, stalling momentarily before plunging, fully submerged, into water the colour of tea with too little milk.
Whatever it is they are catching, momentarily attracts the attention of a few of the much larger birds they have for company; most of them simply continue to drift with the slow current. In any event, none of the gulls – herring, lesser black-backed, even the nifty and mobile black-headed variety – is anywhere near quick enough to effect a mugging before the food is swallowed whole and on the wing. The terns, for their part, seem wholly indifferent to the presence and interest of their larger neighbours; they are busy, and hungry.
One of the terns against the backdrop of the road bridge masonry
Stalling, immediately prior to diving for food
There’s a spot on the Long Mynd, a place where we often hunker down for a lunch stop: it’s generally sheltered, undisturbed, and – once we’ve been settled for a while – a good position to scan the sky for birds of prey; peregrines in particular. On those days when visibility is good, you can also see the flats in Dudley; something which will probably appeal only to a limited demographic and not likely to be featuring in any Shropshire Tourist Board literature…
Hills with a genuinely Welsh feel; which can only ever be a good thing…
Sitting among Welsh hills, looking at the – albeit distant – epicentre of the black country can be slightly disorientating. And yes, it’s true that the Long Mynd is in England: the high point – Pole Bank summit – is a good 9 or 10 kilometres on the English side of Offa’s Dyke; but the hills are properly Welsh. At least they have a properly Welsh feel to them; not least because, the more you get to know your way around, the easier it becomes to find the places where you’re not likely to have much company; that and the accompaniment provided by the sound of the free-flowing streams which track the floors of the hollows (as many of the valleys are known around these parts). Of course, in the times before arbitrary boundaries were drawn, or built, none of these semantics would have mattered; although Dudley did have a castle, long before the flats showed up.
This isn’t quite a case of “I can see my house from up here” – for a start, Wenlock Edge would be in the way; but looking back at those flats (one block now, where once there were many) and the transmission masts and assorted ironmongery atop the Rowley Hills, it all feels a bit disconnected. And the disconnect is a measure of just how many transitions there are in the landscape as you head out from the periphery of the west midlands conurbation and across the cultural and physical divide of the river Severn – the UK’s longest, and arguably its most turbulent. You can still see where you’ve come from, and to where you’ll be returning; but, for the time being, it’s a world away…
Peregrines aside, encounters with another falcon – merlin – if not exactly commonplace, are by no means unknown. Frustratingly, they mostly seem to follow a well established pattern – recognition (following initial uncertainty); excitement; a too slow raising of the binoculars; and finally, fleeting sight of the rapidly receding falcon. The whole process generally takes maybe 3 to 5 seconds!
One day, I’ll be ready.